Monday, August 29, 2011


SACRAMENTO — Amendments to a bill have been proposed allowing metropolitan planning organizations and, in Southern California, county transportation commissions including LA Metro to put on the ballot regional anti-congestion fees that could be passed by a simple majority of voters instead of by the two-thirds “super-majority” required for all new taxes.

The amendments to Senate Bill 791 were proposed Monday by California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). The anti-congestion charge, in the form of per gallon fees on fuel paid at the pump, could be used to fund transit, bike and pedestrian projects, toll lanes, and the safety and maintenance of state highways and bridges. The charge would be levied on the sale of gasoline and diesel fuel and, for electric cars, on vehicle registration, and could be implemented for up to 30 years.

Passage of Proposition 26 in 2010 required a two-thirds vote for most new fees, levies and other charges, which under the state’s previous rules could be passed by a simple majority vote. But Proposition 26 exempted from the two-thirds requirement those fees that directly benefit the people who pay them — in this case, motorists. The projects and programs funded by the charge would be required to specifically benefit motorists by reducing congestion.

 “In 2008 voters in LA County miraculously voted to support the Measure R sales tax for transportation by a two-thirds vote in the throes of a collapsing economy.  But, it should not require a miracle to ensure the future of our transportation system and our economy,” said Denny Zane, executive director of Move LA. “This bill provides the opportunity for congestion reduction strategies that can be approved by a sensible majority vote, including expanded transit services or highway improvements.

Revenues could pay for transit capital, operations and maintenance; bicycle and pedestrian programs and projects; programs and projects that would demonstrably reduce the growth in vehicle miles traveled (VMT); conversion of carpool lanes to toll lanes; and improvements “relative to the maintenance, safety and rehabilitation of state highways and bridges.”

In the Southern California region, each county has an independent transportation commission, such as LA Metro in Los Angeles County, that prepares a county-specific transportation plan. In addition, the metropolitan planning organization, which is called the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), prepares a regional transportation plan for the six-county area that includes Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. Each commission as well as SCAG would be enabled to seek voter approval for anti-congestion charges, but only with projects and programs specified and strict accountability provisions.

Court decisions in the aftermath of Proposition 13 held that voter approval of new taxes for transportation required a two-thirds vote. This very steep standard has made it very difficult for transportation agencies to keep up with badly needed transportation system maintenance and expansion projects. Proposition 26 made it doubly difficult to raise additional revenue, at the very same time that other federal, state and local sources of revenue and funding for transportation are declining in part because of the bad economy as well as to the increased fuel efficiency of new cars, which has reduced gas tax revenues.  

SB 791 enables transportation agencies around the state to seek majority voter approval for a congestion fee under circumstances allowed by both Propositions 13 and 26. It is supported by a coalition of leading business, labor and environmental organizations, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Los Angeles Business Council, and the California League of Conservation Voters.

While traffic congestion plagues many cities, Los Angeles and other cities in Southern California are hardest hit. The Texas Transportation Institute, which tracks congestion statistics in the US, routinely ranks LA first for total congestion delays as well as per-capita delays. Considering the value of wasted time and fuel, TTI estimates the annual cost of traffic congestion in greater Los Angeles area is close to $10 billion

Monday, August 8, 2011


In an LA Times op-ed Monday entitled "More freeways won't end LA's traffic woes," NRDC Senior Attorney Joel Reynolds takes issue with the proposed extension of the 710 Freeway through Pasadena and South Pasadena and with the Foothill South toll road in Orange County. A better idea, he says, is a multimodal approach involving transit and congestion management on existing roads or — better yet — implementation of 30/10:

"Instead of wasting limited transportation dollars on projects like these that inevitably sabotage mobility by perpetuating traffic congestion," he writes, "we need to demand strategies that will actually address the problem. There is no better example anywhere in the country than the 30/10 initiative advanced by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — who last week became MTA board chairman — and the Move LA coalition of community organizations to leverage federal loans to accelerate funding for 12 key public transit projects in Los Angeles."

Reynolds argues that we can no longer afford the luxury of wasting public funding on costly projects that won't address the traffic problem and that persist more because of politics or bureaucratic momentum. Read the article here:

Monday, August 1, 2011


More than 50 organizations have signed on to Move LA’s letter (on the right) urging Senator Dianne Feinstein to help win New Starts funding for the Westside Subway Extension and the downtown LA Regional Connector in 2012. Both projects are critical pieces of LA’s transit infrastructure: The Regional Connector is an 2-mile-long underground light rail line downtown that will link up the Gold, Blue and Expo lines (Expo to Culver City opens in November with 10 stations) to provide a “one-seat ride” across the region. The 9-mile Westside Subway Extension extends the Purple Line from Vermont and Wilshire, providing a high-speed transit alternative to the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, and UCLA.

Metro’s subway system transports 8,846 passengers per route mile — more riders than travel on either BART in the Bay Area or Chicago’s “L.” Both projects could receive funding through America Fast Forward, the national rebranding of the “30-10” plan to build all 12 Measure R fixed-guideway transit lines in 10 years. Key elements of America Fast Forward have been incorporated into both the Senate and House federal transportation reauthorization bills. America Fast Forward and New Starts funding would together ensure that both projects are built within 10 years.

Move LA’s sign-on letter notes these projects would provide green jobs to the building construction trades, noting that while unemployment in LA County stands at 12 percent, unemployment for construction workers is more than 40 percent. The letter is signed by business, labor, environmental and community groups.